A law professor answers: are corporations citizens?

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy

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Are corporations citizens and how have courts changed the role of corporations in society and in elections? We look at these topics with our guest in the studio, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy. She’s an associate professor of law at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida. Her new book is called Corporate Citizen? An Argument for the Separation of Corporation and State.

Listen to the whole show here:

We began our conversation where the book begins, waiting for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on January 21, 2010. I asked what that day was like for legal scholars monitoring corporate power, what the case was about and why she considers it a legal turning point?

We heard about examples of courts granting corporations new legal rights in terms of commercial speech, political speech and religious rights. But there was no corresponding increase in corporate responsibilities.

The Citizens United decision didn’t create corporate personhood; that idea has been around in the Supreme Court since at least 1886 in a case called Santa Clara County.

Often corporate rights have advanced because they gained protections afforded under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Yeah, that’s right, the one that ensured freedom for slaves.

In the 1970s the court’s Belloti decision allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts on a ballot initiative.


Corporate Citizen? A 2016 book by Stetson University College of Law professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy.

Torres-Spelliscy differentiates between corporate personhood and citizenship – especially with respect to the Constitution’s Comity Clause. She thinks this may be a way for lawyers in the future to fight back against corporate rights; it could be a legal basis to challenge the direction of a pro-business Supreme Court.

She calls the current Roberts Court the “corporate court” – with help from Justice Alito also pushing corporate rights. But we also talked about SCOTUS decisions that equivocate on corporate rights or corporate personhood?

We also looked at the implications for a Court without late Justice Antonin Scalia – and whether a new justice will be seated next year or even further in the future than that.

Watch video of this interview in three parts: